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Iowa grad school emphatically rejected James Holmes

6:11 AM, Aug 31, 2012   |    comments
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By The Des Moines Register

James Holmes, the troubled graduate student who allegedly shot and killed 12 people at a Colorado movie theater last month, was turned down for a doctoral program at the University of Iowa last year, newly released documents show.

"Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances," one professor wrote about Holmes in an e-mail to the selection committee for the neuroscience program. The professor, Daniel Tranel, did not explain why he felt this way, but Tranel wrote much more negatively about Holmes than about the other six applicants he interviewed, the e-mail shows.

Another professor, Mark Blumberg, echoed those thoughts about Holmes. "I agree with Dan. Don't admit," Blumberg wrote.

The neuroscience professors' wishes apparently were granted. The documents released Thursday under the Freedom of Information Act show that Holmes was not offered a graduate school spot at the University of Iowa.

Holmes wound up as a neuroscience doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado-Denver. He reportedly did poorly there and had recently withdrawn when he went on the shooting rampage in the Denver suburb of Aurora, killing 12 people and wounding 57 during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises.

In his application letter to the University of Iowa, Holmes, a 24-year-old California native, mentioned that his observations of people with mental illness helped spark his interest in neuroscience. The letter talks about when he was a counselor at a Los Angeles-area camp for underprivileged children, and it alludes to shortcomings Holmes saw with psychiatric medications.

"On average, two of the kids per cabin were clinically diagnosed with (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)," he wrote. "One of the weeks, I mentored a kid with Schizophrenia. At 3:30 a.m., he woke up and vacuumed the ceiling of our cabin. These kids were heavily medicated but this did not solve their problems, only create new ones. The medication changed them from highly energetic creative kids to lax beings who slept through the activities. I wanted to help them but couldn't. This is where neuroscience research becomes invaluable."

Holmes wrote that a neuroscience education could help him improve the lives of many people, including those with cognitive disabilities. "Indeed all aspects of society have the potential to gain from advancements in our understanding of learning and memory because we are all connected. We all share one brain, the human brain."

His application shows that he had nearly straight A's as an undergraduate at the University of California-Riverside, where he majored in neuroscience and graduated with a 3.9 grade-point average. A professor there, whose name is blacked out in the Iowa records, rated Holmes as "truly exceptional" in "all-around scientific ability." Holmes' scores were mixed on the standard graduate-school entrance exam. He scored in the 98th percentile on "verbal reasoning" and in the 94th percentile on "quantitative reasoning," but only in the 45th percentile on "analytical writing."

The revelations come on the same day a judge in Colorado heard arguments from defense and prosecutors about whether prosecutors and Holmes' legal defense team can examine a notebook Holmes sent to his psychiatrist. Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester is considering whether prosecutors can use the notebook in the trial.

The psychiatrist, Lynne Fenton, testified that she felt her professional relationship with Holmes ended June 11. She said she reported concerns to campus police. She said she did not see or talk to Holmes from June 11 to July 19.

Holmes' lawyers said at a previous court hearing that he suffers from mental illness.

Authorities have said Holmes meticulously stockpiled weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition and other gear and booby-trapped his apartment with improvised explosive devices, suggesting he knew what he was doing.

Contributing: Trevor Hughes and Gary Strauss, USA TODAY; The Associated Press; and KUSA-TV

The Des Moines Register

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